Steve Morrison was my teacher, mentor, law partner and friend. Steve died yesterday morning at only 64 years of age. It’s been less than 24 hours since we learned the news, but my law firm, Nelson Mullins Riley & Scarborough, already misses him terribly. You see, Steve Morrison was never ordinary- no ordinary lawyer, no ordinary person, no ordinary partner, no ordinary friend. He was in every respect bigger than life.
To describe Steve Morrison as a talented trial lawyer is an extreme understatement. Steve’s ability to connect with the jury and judge bordered on the mystical. He was a lawyer called upon to try the most difficult and unwinnable cases – more often than not, he won them. To prepare for trial with Steve was the best legal education that a young trial lawyer could have. A few years ago, I was first chair on a difficult commercial case with large exposure. I asked Steve if he would consult with me on the case. In reality, Steve was too busy to do so, but characteristically he agreed anyway. This was a new dynamic for me (and for him) because previously Steve had always been lead in any case I worked on with him. Steve was a gracious teacher, never undercutting my “role” in the case, but instead engaging me– “What are your themes?” “What will your jury care about?” “what is the right outcome and why?” We had a mock trial in the case with Steve playing the role of opposing counsel– Steve dominated with the mock jury as was typical. However, I took comfort in the fact that our opposing counsel was no Steve Morrison. This is just one example of the many times Steve Morrison mentored me. I know Steve was just as generous with many of my colleagues, many of the law students he taught as an adjunct professor at the University of South Carolina School of Law, and with many others both inside and outside the profession.
Steve was not only a lawyer, but an activist. He not only talked about doing the right thing and making a difference – he went out and did it. Over his career, Steve invested thousands of hours in pro bono work advocating for the underdogs of our society, from poor school districts, to incarcerated youth, to the homeless. Morrison was a man of action. This boy from Michigan, embraced his new home of South Carolina, and in particular the city of Columbia, and determined to make them better—he did. Steve was active in everything – the arts, education, and community welfare. He dreamed of what Columbia and South Carolina could be – then put his shoulder into pushing in that direction. He left his adopted home a much better place than he found it.
As a law partner, year after year Steve was more often than not the most productive lawyer in the Firm. He asked much of himself, and much of his colleagues. He continually pushed us to be better. He shared Claude Scarborough’s vision of a national firm, headquartered in South Carolina, but with influence throughout the world. As a member of our Firm’s Executive Committee, he pushed us to dream– to dare to be great. Steve Morrison was a key contributor to what this Firm has become and what it will be in the future.
Finally, Steve was a devoted friend. Although he had reached a level of national prominence, he always had time to speak to you. He treated the high and the mighty and the poorest among us as Christ would have us treat one another. That is not to say that he suffered fools lightly—but Steve had a big, compassionate heart. He was a giver and sharer. The State newspaper has a wonderful tribute to Steve on the front page of today’s edition. The title refers to Steve as “a force of nature.” That is so very true. Steve—we will miss you, but your spirit will always be with us. Thank you. Rest in peace my friend.